Make a winning spread for football-watching party


Your friends have just invited themselves over to watch the big game and what do you say?

No problem!

Entertaining doesn't need to be fraught with worry and wig-outs.

It can be easy and informal and fun -- just like this game day party.

To save money and time, use what you have around the house.

There's no rule that says you can't serve a big sandwich on your well-used cutting board.

Or that you can't fill a pretty vase with pork rinds. Football? Pigskin? Get it? Sorry we couldn't resist!

Or that you can't provide some game day board games -- Scrabble! -- for those who get tired of watching the plays on television.

Easy peasy is the way to go.

So go ahead, let your friends drink beer out of red Solo cups just like in college. Use a brownie mix for dessert; most of the time those brownies turn out better than homemade, anyway. And most of all, don't forget to add us to the guest list.


-- Decorations. Football toothpicks from Target; plastic football players and goalpost are cake decorations from Party City.

-- M&Ms. We used the Touchdown variety of peanut M&Ms, which means some of the candies are decorated with goal posts. If you can't find Touchdown M&Ms, do not worry. Peanut M&Ms are already shaped like footballs.

-- An obvious and easy must-have: We had to include pork rinds at our pigskin party!

-- Veggies. We chose grape tomatoes -- because they're shaped like footballs -- to accompany celery and carrot sticks. And we chose to put them in cordial glasses because we stole that idea from Pinterest. (That's ranch dressing in the bottom of the glass.) Secret to throwing any party: Make Pinterest your new BFF.

-- Flowers. Yes, even for football. We made footballs picks for our flower arrangement from foam pads shaped like footballs that we hot-glued onto plastic floral picks. A pack of foam sports images is $2.99 at Michaels. The floral picks were free from a very kind florist.

-- Brownies. We used Pillsbury's Chocolate Fudge Brownie mix for our brownie footballs. Make sure to line your baking pan with parchment paper, otherwise you will have a very difficult time getting the cooked brownies out of the pan. Also, once they're cooked and before you cut them out with your football-shaped cookie cutter, freeze the brownies for about 10 or so minutes; they'll be easier to cut that way. (You'll have scraps of brownie left after cutting them out. Do not throw away these scraps. Instead, save them for later use -- with ice cream and hot fudge.) To decorate the football brownies, we used Wilton ready-to-decorate icing. It's available at most grocery stores and comes with decorative nozzle tips. Don't worry about perfection. People will eat these no matter what, because they're ... brownies!

-- Smoked mesquite almonds. The goalpost in the nuts is part of a football cake decorating set from Party City. We couldn't resist some local beers. Some stores allow you to create your own six-pack from an assortment of beers. Get a variety, that way everyone will find something to his or her liking. And of course, you'll need iconic red Solo party cups.

-- Chips and dip. No matter what kind of dip you choose, make sure to pick a hearty chip. We also think board games are perfect for this party. After all, it's game day.

-- Finally, something substantial: Sandwiches. We picked this Pan Bagna recipe because it's hearty and a bit classier than a traditional sub. Read on to see how to put it together.

Pan Bagna

Makes: 1 sandwich. Preparation time: 45 minutes. Total time: 45 minutes (plus chilling time)

1 small cucumber (7 to 8 ounces)
1 round or oval loaf of French or Italian-style bread (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons chopped basil, parsley or chervil, optional
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 ripe tomatoes (about 10 ounces total), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
4 ounces Brie or Camembert cheese, sliced

Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds. Cut it into thin lengthwise slices (they won't slide off the bread as easily as if they are cut crosswise).

Cut the loaf of bread in half horizontally. Sprinkle the cut side of each half with herbs, oil and vinegar. Arrange tomato slices on the bottom half and sprinkle them with half with the salt and pepper. Cover with cheese. Add cucumber slices and sprinkle with remaining salt and pepper. Position top half of bread over the filling. Wrap the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap or put in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for a few hours, weighing it down with a 2-to-3-pound weight on top.

When it's time to serve, cut the sandwich into wedges.

-- Note from Jacques: Other popular additions to this sandwich include anchovy fillets, canned tuna in oil, olives. It can be made the night before.

-- Note from us: We used an 18-ounce loaf of ciabatta bread, omitted cucumbers and added olive tapenade. We used more than 2 tablespoons of basil and cut it with scissors rather than chopping it with a knife because doing so with a knife made it look unattractive and less than fresh. We used way more than 4 ounces of brie because we like brie. A lot. If you use more of anything than the recipe calls for, make sure to adjust the amount of oil and vinegar, herbs and salt and pepper. In fact, you will probably want to adjust the oil and vinegar to taste no matter what. A cast iron enamel pan works great as a weight. Making this the night before you plan to serve it is the way to go because it gives the ingredients ample time to meld and you're not messing with it the day of the party.

The recipe for this sandwich -- which is a specialty in Provence -- comes from Jacques Pepin's "The Short-Cut Cook: How to Make Simply Wonderful Meals with Surprisingly Little Effort" (William Morrow, $18.99).

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